Local family hoping to spare others the heartache of fatal hit-and-run crashes, help victims and law enforcement

September 15, 2021 | 9:20 am


In the shadow of a hit-and-run tragedy, one local family is hoping to spare others the same grief they felt while helping victims, supporting law enforcement, and honoring their own loved one.

Dawn Elliott knows firsthand what it’s like to lose someone to a hit-and-run crash — her mother Deborah Ann Geneau was killed last year in Bakersfield. And she doesn’t want to see anyone one else to be affected. She and her husband started Helping HART (Hit-and-Run Tragedies), which aims to raise awareness of these crimes, help hit-and-run victims and their families, and help fund law enforcement by providing much-needed resources.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles is proud to support the cause by sponsoring  this nonprofit organization. The law firm also represents the family of Geneau, as well as other local hit-and-run victims, and knows too well the devastation caused by hit-and-run drivers.

 

THE CRASH

Stephanie Heninger was arrested and pleaded not guilty to vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and hit-and-run charges connected to the July 22 crash near CSU Bakersfield. The family of Deborah Geneau and Bakersfield law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles had offered a reward to $7,500 for the person who helped identify the driver of a 2013-2019 dark gray Nissan Sentra that was suspected of causing the crash on Stockdale Highway near Don Hart Drive.

Police learned through GPS location data that Heninger had been at the scene of the crash, according to a probable cause declaration reported by KGET-17. Police also obtained a statement from Heninger confirming she was the driver who left the scene, according to reports. The vehicle in the incident was seized in Riverside County, Bakersfield Police reported. While police received several tips, police investigations ultimately led to the arrest. The court case is ongoing.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed lawsuits on behalf of the Geneau family against two other driver’s involved in the fatal crash. Both of those drivers were also speeding 10-15 mph above the 55 mph speed limit at the time of the collision, according to police.

At a press conference in July 2020 at Chain | Cohn | Stiles, Debbie’s husband Rick Geneau and their daughter Dawn shared about their loss, and pleaded with the driver who caused the collision to turn him or herself in. Rick met Debbie met when they were both 14 years old. At the time of Debbie’s death, they had had been married for 45 years. Dawn Elliott told media she feels she’s had to take on her mother’s role and be the strength of the family during this time.

“You’ve not only taken my mom’s life, you’ve taken a piece of all of our lives.”

 

HELPING HART

Dawn and her husband Joe Elliott Jr. founded the nonprofit Helping HART just one year after the crash to honor mother and grandmother Deborah Geneau. And they’re not alone.

In 2019, the United States saw more than 2,000 fatalities due to hit-and-run crashes, according to national statistics provided on the Helping HART website.

“That means 2,005 people have been ripped away from the people who loved them,” the website states. “That is 2,005 men, women, grandparents, mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, friends stolen away in a senseless act of cowardice.”

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, an average of one hit-and-run accident happens in the United States every minute.

“Everyone knows accidents happen, but people should not run from their mistakes by leaving the scene having no regard for doing the right thing,” according to Helping HART.

The nonprofit will offer assistance through home remodels or vehicle modifications to anyone who has developed handicaps as a result of hit-and-run crashes, and offer scholarships to children who lost a parent to a hit-and-run, Dawn Elliott told KGET-17 News.

“I will be able to continue doing things in memory of my mom,” Dawn told KGET. “Therefore, my mom is still with me. Helping me. Really neat that I get to work with my mom for the rest of my life.”

Anyone interested in supporting Helping HART can make a donation by visiting helpinghart.org or by emailing [email protected].

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form, text, or chat with us at chainlaw.com.

Reward offered for information leading to the arrest in July 22 fatal hit-and-run crash

August 5, 2020 | 6:00 am


EDITORS NOTE / UPDATE (MAY 2021): Stephanie Heninger, 42, was arrested on suspicion of causing the fatal crash. The vehicle in the incident was seized in Riverside County, Bakersfield Police reported. The court case is ongoing. For media coverage, please see the listing below. 

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A reward is being offered for information that leads to the arrest of the suspect responsible for the July 22 hit-and-run crash near CSU Bakersfield that killed 65-year-old Deborah Ann Geneau.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles and family of Deborah Ann Geneau is offering a $2,500 reward to the person who helps identify the driver of a 2013-2019 dark gray Nissan Sentra that is suspected to causing the crash on Stockdale Highway near Don Hart Drive. That vehicle turned into bike path parking area across from CSUB immediately after the collision, police said. It has driver’s side damage.

Anyone with information is urged to call 326-3967 or the Kern Secret Witness line at (661) 322-4040.

“I spent yesterday at the mortuary collecting my mother’s belongings, including her crushed earrings and wedding ring. I couldn’t help but think about what the driver of the other vehicle might have been doing yesterday?” said Dawn Elliott, Deborah Ann Geneau’s daughter and only child, in a statement to media. “We really just want this person to come forward, or assistance to find the person responsible.”

Bakersfield Police Department released a new video of surveillance camera angles. The angles include traffic cameras and footage from a Golden Empire Transportation bus that was in the vicinity of the crash, police said. You can view the videos by clicking here.

“At this point, all indications are that this was an accident,” said Ray Pruitt, investigator with Chain | Cohn | Stiles, in a news conference. “But a person made a decision after being involved in a fatal accident to flee the scene. Now that person has to be held accountable.”

At the news conference for media at Chain | Cohn | Stiles, husband Rick Geneau, husband of Debbie, and their daughter Dawn, shared about their loss, and pleaded with the driver who caused the collision to turn him or herself in.

Rick met Debbie met when they were both 14 years old. At the time of Debbie’s death, they had had been married for 45 years.

“You see these lines on my face, they’re not from old age. They’re timelines that I’ve spent with my wife,” Rick Geneau told media. We all miss her deeply … I thought I was the strength of the family. Come to find out she was my strength.”

Our community — friends and strangers — have reached out to the family since the accident. The family is grateful for the outpouring of love, condolences, and support, Rick Geneau said. A GoFundMe page has been set up to pay for funeral expenses. Click here to access that page.

Rick Geneau, in speaking through media, said if the driver turned themselves in, he would stand beside them in court and ask for leniency.

“But if you don’t turn yourself in, I’ll be in court also and I’ll be seeking full prosecution to the max,” he said.

Dawn Elliott told media she feels she’s had to take on her mother’s role and be the strength of the family during this time.

“You’ve not only taken my mom’s life, you’ve taken a piece of all of our lives.”

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CRASH MEDIA COVERAGE

REWARD MEDIA COVERAGE

REWARD INCREASE MEDIA COVERAGE

NEW INFORMATION

ARREST COVERAGE